THE LEVANT NEWS EXCLUSIVE – By Dr. Haytham Mouzahem — Despite that Israel has not declared its responsibility for assassinating Hezbollah cadre Samir Kuntar, but its officials and media have praised the Syrian and Lebanese reports saying that Israel killed Kuntar.
Jerusalem Post quoted on Sunday Israeli Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Gallant as talking to Israel Radio that “It is good that people like Samir Kuntar will not be part of our world.”
Asked if Tel Aviv carried out the strike, Gallant said: “I am not confirming or denying anything to do with this matter.” But other Israeli officials, including military spokesmen, declined comment.
Meanwhile, Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked welcomed the assassination of Kuntar but did not claim credit for the air strike.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel’s Northern Command, and current Zionist Union MK Maj. Gen. (res.) Eyal Ben-Reuven praised the assassination of Kuntar when a number of rockets hit a building in the Damascus district of Jaramana in the early hours on Sunday.
“IDF officials, Intelligence, the Air Force and others should be commended for, according to foreign sources, killing Samir Kuntar this morning and another top-ranking Hezbollah official,” Ben-Reuven said.
He added: “Kuntar was a murderer who killed the Haran family in cold blood.”
As usual, Israel welcomed Kuntar’s death since its consider him a “terrorist” and “murder” , but stopped short of confirming responsibility for the strike that killed him.
The Israeli authorities avoid the direct claim of responsibility, “in a bid to give the enemy a chance to mull its retaliation choices and in order for this retaliation to be deliberate and well-calculated,” said Hasan Hijazi, the editor of the Israeli affairs at al-Manar, Hezbollah TV station.
“Israel now is denying any involvement because the direct claim of responsibility would lead to strong and justified retaliation” by Hezbollah, added Hijazi.
Denial and ambiguity are a famous Israeli policy that uses for security and strategic reasons. Until today, Israel does not recognize its 200 nuclear weapons or its assassination of Hezbollah military leader Imad Mughnieh in Damascus in 2008.
Israel’s official policy regarding strategic and security issues is based on “Neither confirm, nor deny” that does not involve the Israeli government in any international legal or political responsibilities that justify the retaliation of its enemies. Also, this policy sends messages to them that Israel has nuclear weapons or it did this assassination, as a way to intimidate the enemies, on the basis of “We know that you know”.
At the same time, Israeli media and officials have insisted on confirming those messages by indirect ways. For example, an Israeli analyst commented on the air strike that killed Kuntar, saying in a sarcastic way: “Off course, who did that is not the Spanish aircraft”.
But what would be Hezbollah’s response? Will the Lebanese Shiite group retaliate for the murder of one of its senior cadres?
Before analyzing Hezbollah’s response, it is worth noting that Israel released Kuntar, a Lebanese Druze, in 2008 as part of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah. On his release, Kuntar was welcomed by Hezbollah as a hero in Beirut and and he is since believed to have joined the group.
Israel has recently accused Kuntar for being a part of Hezbollah branch in Syria that is attempting to organize some resistance cells in the Syrian Golan occupied by Israel since 1967. The Syrian population of occupied area is totally Druze, a sect that Kuntar belongs to.
For Israelis, “Kuntar represents the Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian struggle against Israel. He is well-recognized for his participation in Nahariya operation in 1979. He is well known because he was freed despite the 33-day Israeli war on Lebanon which took place after the resistance (Hezbollah) captured two Israeli soldiers and killed other eight. He is well recognized for his alleged role in opening a new front in Golan against the Zionist entity. Samir Kuntar represents the path of resistance”, said Al-manar analyst Hijazi.
Lebanese media reported in 2008 that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said to Kuntar in the “captured liberation ceremony”: “We have been involved in 2006 war because of you”.
It is true that the release of Kuntar and the other Lebanese prisoners in Israel, was one but not the only reason of the war. Hezbollah and Iran wanted to ease pressure on Hamas after its capturing of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza On 25 June 2006, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert refused to negotiate with the Palestinian group for a prisoners swap deal and the Israeli army launched an assault on Gaza strict.
But the importance of Kuntar was very symbolic for Hezbollah since he was the older Lebanese prisoner in Israel since 1979 and Israeli government has repeatedly refused to release him since he killed Israeli citizens in a resistance operation with a Palestinian group. Even, Kuntar’s family has blamed and warned Hezbollah after accomplishing a prisoners exchange deal with Israel without the release of Kuntar.
Although, Kuntar was not a Hezbollah member when he was captured, three years before Hezbollah’s foundation, and he was not Shiite. But the Lebanese group has pledged to free all Lebanese prisoners in Israel and Nasrallah is known in Lebanon and the whole world that he respects his promise.
Thus, if Kuntar was that important for Hezbollah when he was not a member of the party, so his importance is tripled now in both symbolic and strategic ways. He is now one of Hezbollah – resistance cadres or leaders in Syria, and he was in charge for recruiting Syrian Druze in the Syrian occupied Golan and Sweida province, according to Israeli and Syrian opposition allegations.
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accused Kuntar of overseeing covert Hezbollah entrenchment on the Syrian Golan Heights, a strategic plateau overlooking northeastern Israel.
Syrian state media said Kuntar was involved in a major offensive launched earlier this year by the Syrian army and its allies near the Syrian Golan Heights in Quneitra near the Israeli border against the opposition fighting to topple the Syrian president Bashar Assad. Syrian extremist rebels in southern Syria also said Kuntar was present in battles this year to defend a Syrian air base near the Druze majority city of Sweida close to the border with Jordan that rebels sought to capture.
Also, kuntar is believed to have been converted to Shiite Islam and got married to a Shiite lady, Zainab Barjawi, known as an anchor in some Iranian backed TV channels. Hezbollah’s official media said Kuntar would be buried Monday in a Shiite cemetery in its main stronghold of Dahiya in the southern suburbs of Beirut, and not in his Druze village, Ebay. The party, which mourned him, also opened a condolences hall to receive the public.
However, Hezbollah’s retaliation for the murder of kuntar has an important strategic reason which is the deterrence concept with Israel. That was the concept that lead the Lebanese party to revenge for most of its leaders assassination by Israel, since the assassination of its Secratary General Abbas Mussawi in February 1992 to the killing of Jihad Imad Mughnieh in January 18, 2015. Hezbollah’s revenge for Jihad Mughnieh and his colleagues came a week after the Israeli raid on Qunaitra. Hezbollah retaliated by targeting an Israeli military convoy in the Lebanese occupied Shebaa Farms, killing two Israeli soldiers.
At the time, Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah vowed to respond to any Israeli attack on the party’s members in Syria. Nasrallah speaks on Monday and repeated the same promise. He said: “Today we say that Samir Kuntar is one of us, he is a leader in the resistance and was killed by Israel, so we have the right to respond in any time and any place we choose”.
“We have told the enemy before that if any of our men was killed , we will blame it for that. We have told the enemy before that if it attacked we have the right to respond in anyway, place, or time the resistance chooses”, Nasrallah added.
“It would not be in their interest, and if they did so, they would have a big problem,” Amidror said, alluding to Israel’s threats to respond to any major Hezbollah attack with strikes in Lebanon.Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s former national security adviser, predicted Hezbollah would seek to exact “small revenge” for Kuntar’s killing.
Will Russia’s intervention in Syria and its framework military cooperation with Israel hinder Hezbollah’s response in Syria?
Maybe. But that framework deal did not prevent Israel from its operations against Hezbollah and the Syrian army, why should it stop the “resistance” retaliation?
Despite the complicated situation in Syria and the region, I believe Hezbollah will respond in the convenient time and place, according to its strategic priorities and political situation. We remember that Hezbollah has not declared it has revenged yet for the assassination of its leader Imad Mughnieh in 2008.
Israel has carried out multiple strikes in Syria targeting Hezbollah and Syrian army positions over the last two years. Israel claims that the strikes have hit weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Sunday’s attack that killed Kuntar and others was Israel’s first on a Hezbollah target since January when it hit a convoy in the Golan Heights area of Qunaitra, killing six Hezbollah members and an Iranian commander.
Syrian government loyalists said the explosions that killed Kuntar were an Israeli strike. “Two Israeli warplanes carried out the raid which targeted the building in Jaramana and struck the designated place with four long-range missiles,” the NDF in Jaramana Facebook page said. Jaramana is a bastion of government support and is the home of many of Syria’s Druze minority as well as Christians.